Stephen Hero by James Joyce.

First edition of Stephen Hero, 1944.
Stephen Hero is a first draft of James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the latter of which was first published in 1916. Stephen Hero was composed, it's thought, around about 1904 - 1906 but not published until after Joyce's death in 1944. Sylvia Beech, the first publisher of Ulysses and owner of the original 'Shakespeare and Company' bookshop in Paris wrote of it,
When the manuscript came back to its author, after the twentieth publisher had rejected it [thought to be an exaggeration], he threw it into the fire, from which Mrs. Joyce [actually Miss Eileen Joyce, James Joyce's sister], at the risk of burning her hands, rescued these pages.
To this tale, Herbert Gorman (author of James Joyce: A Definitive Biography, 1939) adds that in 1908,
Joyce burned a portion of Stephen Hero in a fit of momentary despair and then started the novel anew in a more compressed form.
That compressed form was, of course, Portrait; of Stephen Hero Joyce wrote that is was merely "a schoolboy's production". 

Of the complete manuscript of Stephen Hero only 383 pages remain - 518 are missing, perhaps destroyed in the fire - it's fate is uncertain. But these 383 pages of manuscript (I must stress manuscript - published, the pages amount to about 220) went on to form the final part of Portrait of the Artist where the main character, Stephen Dedalus (who is also a significant character in Ulysses), is at university (in Ulysses we see him as a teacher).

James Joyce is an author I'm fascinated by, but I've never had much luck with his works. I've read Dubliners (1914), A Portrait of the Artist (1916), Ulysses (1922), and even Finnegans Wake (1939; and that one I didn't expect to have much luck with!) and despite best efforts I've never managed to love any of them or even understand them, though I never manage to move on from them. I plan on re-reading all of them (when I come to re-reading Ulysses it will be my third read) and I am ever hopeful, but I do think and hope that reading Stephen Hero is a turning point for me. When I bought it, I was hoping for what I call "the Jean Santeuil" experience. Jean Santeuil is a novel by Marel Proust, another author I'm interested in but until Jean Santeuil I could not love, even though I read In Search of Lost Time twice. That novel, Jean Santeuil, added a new dimension to Proust; I loved it so much, and I wish I had have read it before In Search of Lost Time

The fact is Stephen Hero is easier. It's early modernism, I suppose - almost traditional in its format but the focus on the main character is largely preoccupied with his 'self' or 'soul' and what makes his character. But it is not a difficult novel, it isn't designed to trip up and mystify as Finnegans Wake was. It is in a sense straight-forward and for that I felt it very easy to enjoy and focus on the character of Stephen rather than lose myself in the maze that is Joyce's later novels (Ulysses especially!).

James Joyce by Jacques-Emile Blanche (1935).
The first 500 pages of the manuscript are missing, so the published book begins mid-sentence: "... anyone spoke to him mingled a too polite disbelief with its expectancy." There are also a few occasions where we see "[Page missing]", but on the whole this fragment is uninterrupted and the missing parts aren't too frustrating. We are necessarily thrown straight into the action, but this isn't a bad thing - it doesn't take long at all to settle into it. The primary focus is on Stephen in university so we learn of his personal and intellectual development. There's a great deal of discussion in it on some of Joyce's favourite authors, particularly Henrik Ibsen (Joyce wrote an article on Ibsen - Ibsen's New Drama for the Fortnightly Review, 1st April 1900), which sheds light on both James Joyce and Stephen Dedalus). These passages on these various authors are insightful, a pleasure to read, and inspiring. We also learn of Dedalus' crisis of faith and the arguments it caused between him and his family, which of course puts me in mind of the 'Telemachus' episode in Ulysses where Buck Mulligan says to Stephen,
You could have knelt down, damn it, Kinch, when your dying mother asked you... I'm hyperborean as much as you. But to think of your mother begging you with her last breath to kneel down and pray for her. And you refused. There is something sinister in you...
It is, for an early, incomplete, and practically disowned manuscript, remarkably good. It was exciting to read: I enjoyed it, understood it (largely), and it makes me want to read Joyce again, as opposed to my periodic desire to suffer it. I'm not saying that Joyce is now, to me, demystified, or that I am converted and Joyce is my new favourite novelist - but Stephen Hero is a good start towards feeling a little more at ease with Joyce, and, more importantly to me, more enthusiastic. William Troy wrote for the New York Times in 1940,
Detailed comparison with the sections of "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" to which it corresponds- the period of Dedalus' college years in Dublin- will make bright the labors of the scholars and critics of the future. It will be noted that certain members of his family- his mother, his sister Isabel and his brother Maurice- play a much more extensive part in this version than does his father. And it will probably be explained that it was only in the interim that father-son relationship, the basis of Joyce's work from "Dubliners" to "Finnegans Wake," had become a dominating obsession.
This is does; it gives a new and fuller dimension to Joyce's most important character Stephen Dedalus. With this and my new enthusiasm I look forward to read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in October, and hopefully two of Joyce's minor works: Chamber Music (1907) and Exiles (1918). 


  1. Thank you for the great posting. "Portrait" is one my all-time favorite books. I have not, however, read the "draft" version. I shall add this to my "must read" list. Thanks!

    1. No problem, and I'm glad to hear you love Portrait - I do think I'll enjoy it much more the second time around :)


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